... And Fido Makes Two
April 6, 2011 3:46 AM   Subscribe

Given my personal circumstances, will it ever become possible for me to get a dog?

I'm single and live alone and work full-time (9 to 5); I live in a small (1 bed, 1 reception) flat and travel a few times a year.

I grew up around dogs and LOVE them, and would like nothing better than to get one of my own. If I did get a dog, I'd absolutely shell out for a walker to come by during the day and whenever I was away, and plan my social life around it - I'm a planner by nature, so this would not be a big change. I'd be able to commit to walking it in the morning and evening and spending lots of my free time with it. I am not picky about breed or age, but being a mellow person myself I would much prefer a mellow dog.

My problem is that, apart from the weekends, I wouldn't be at home during the day and I wonder how fair this would be to any dog. I really don't think I would have the space and funds available for two dogs to keep each other company! The dog would not be able to go into the garden while I was out.

I know that lots of single people own dogs, and I know that lots of people who work 9-5 own dogs, I just can't understand how they make it work! I'd love some input into how you organise your life, how the dog seems to like being left alone a fair bit, and what breeds would suit this sort of set-up.
posted by Ziggy500 to Pets & Animals (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, it's possible but not recommended. Dogs are pack animals, as domesticated as they are. Dogs that are left alone for most of the day go a little nuts. You're doing a disservice to your doggy if you leave him without company for long periods. I know this isn't what you were hoping to hear, sorry.
posted by Splunge at 3:55 AM on April 6, 2011

For a dog currently living in an animal shelter, the life you describe for your potential pet would be awesome. Lots of love and attention, his own home .. I bet there's lots more room in your small flat than in a shelter cage. Plenty of city people and their pets make it work. If you visit the shelter a few times and talk to the people there they could probably suggest a few of the mellower dogs. A puppy would be difficult I think but an older dog who needs a home could be ideal. You need each other ... everyone wins!
posted by Kangaroo at 3:59 AM on April 6, 2011 [22 favorites]

I disagree a bit. I'd say adopting a dog from a shelter and giving it the kind of care and love you seem to want to provide would be a far better life than it might have had otherwise. I might not advocate for a puppy to be in this situation, but you'd be bettering the life of a wonderful dog who might otherwise live the rest of his days in a shelter.
posted by good day merlock at 4:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

You say you don't have room for two dogs, but would you be able to handle a dog and a cat? If you get both animals young (and the dog is not a particularly aggressive breed) dogs and cats can be great companions for one another. And cats are pretty low maintenance.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:22 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dogs sleep a lot. I've got a young (1.5 yo), high-energy (Dalmatian mix) dog, and although I'm home all day, she is STILL quite happy to sleep basically the whole time, except for some exercise toward midday or afternoon. In fact, I prefer to take her out around 11:00 or noon, yet there are days when she looks up at me and just yawns and says, in her own doggie way, "Ma, I'm still sleepy! Wake me up at 2." This, despite the fact that by noon, she has essentially been sleeping for 14 hours straight, with a brief potty walk at 6 am.

So if you are gone for a regular 9-5 day, your dog will spend most of that time sleeping. It's what dogs do.

You should be fine with just about any middle-aged shelter mutt.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 4:57 AM on April 6, 2011

I should note that one thing that helps immensely is the fact that outside of the workday, she gets a lot of exercise--45 minutes of regular walking, another 45 minutes of intense outdoor exercise (running, fetch, etc.), and maybe a 1/2 hour of indoor game time. Dogs like routine, and if the routine includes enough exercise and interaction at certain times during the day, most are content to use the other times of the day to just chill out.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 5:07 AM on April 6, 2011

I think as long as someone comes by to walk the dog during the day, there's no reason this isn't completely doable. Especially if you can afford a day of daycare here and there (assuming your dog is the type who would enjoy that, not all dogs are). Dogs sleep most of the time when they're not doing something, there is zero reason to assume that a dog who gets adequate attention, exercise, training and stimulation wouldn't thrive under the circumstances you provide. You don't need two dogs, what you are describing is in no way whatsoever an unreasonable or unusual situation for owning a dog. Good for you for looking into it first, but I say, go get a dog!
posted by biscotti at 5:13 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

As others have said, get an adult dog. If you're going to shell out for a walker during the day the dog will be fine. You might also want a neighbor on call for an evening let-out in the event you need to work late. Also, the cat plus dog idea seems like a good one if you can manage it.

Don't rush into picking a dog. Start making trips to the shelter until you find one that is genuinely mellow. And if it's possible to take a few days off work in addition to the weekend, to get her acclimated to you and your place, that would be good, too.
posted by Glinn at 5:14 AM on April 6, 2011

There are two of us, and we do exactly what you say you are willing to do. Our boy is pretty happy. Don't stress it. I do second getting an adult dog though that's already been socialized. And lots of exercise when you are around.
posted by JPD at 5:15 AM on April 6, 2011

I'm a single graduate student (two jobs, full course load, working on master's thesis) in a small urban apartment and I not only manage to have a dog, but I manage to have a German Shepherd Dog to boot. I'm not regularly gone from 9AM-5PM, but I have a ridiculously busy schedule that demands that I'm somewhere other than home for large chunks of most days. It's not uncommon, in fact, for me to be gone from 8AM-4PM and then from 6PM-10PM on some days.

So, how do I do it? Doggy daycare (supplemented by an awesome dog walker).

During the week, my dog is in daycare every day for either half days or full days. While she's there, she gets plenty of exercise/play and plenty of socialization (with humans and dogs). When I pick her up, she's happy, tired, and hungry. On days where I have to be out of the house in the evenings as well (daycare closes at 6), she has a walker to take her out, play with her a bit, cuddle her, and put her to bed. I don't get a lot of time with her during the week, so I make up for it by spending the entire weekend with her. This latter thing is non-negotiable for me. Wherever I go on the weekend, she goes. Period. She has my undivided attention from Friday @ 5PM until Monday morning at 8AM.

So, I guess I've kind of found ways to turn dog ownership (as a single girl with a busy schedule) into a group effort. It isn't cheap (I spend about $100 per week on daycare + walks), but it works for me. And, more importantly, it WORKS FOR MY DOG. She's happy, sweet as can be, well-behaved, and totally well-adjusted. She remains the best decision I have ever made.

I should I also mention that I have high hopes for a future in which I have only a 9AM-5PM job, like you. I figure that if my dog and I have managed to make things work under these current conditions (which are, thank god, almost over! five more weeks!), it can only get better (and cheaper!) when I'm actually able to pick her up from daycare at 6PM, take her home to my small ass apartment, and spend the rest of the evening with her.
posted by LittleKnitting at 5:17 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I work full time, live in a small apartment in the city, and have a dog, and she seems perfectly happy. I purposefully looked for one that was middle-aged, playful but still overall mellow, and who could be left at home reliably without being crated (I didn't want a dog to be stuck in a smallish cage all day while I was gone). I spoke with a bunch of different shelters and rescues before finding the right dog, but the one I did find is absolutely perfect for my situation.

I don't have a dogwalker; I only have a friend come do that if I know I'll be gone significantly outside of my normal work hours. And Kismet's fine with that, as far as self-control. There are even some nights when I come home that when I pick up the leash and head toward the door, she backs up and goes back to chewing her bone or sleeping or whatever, clearly not interested in/ready to go outside. Since I am gone during the day, I try to give her lots of attention on the nights and weekends, and we go to the dog park and other doggy events occasionally so she gets plenty of social playtime in all seasons, and she seems pretty happy with that. As long as I stop home to let her out and leave her a peanut butter-filled Kong or something, she also doesn't seem to mind when I go out for an evening after work.

Not all dogs will be okay with this situation. Work hard to find one that will be, and make sure the rescue/shelter understands what you can offer. But as many people above have pointed out, maybe it's not Ideal Doggie Heaven, but it will be a tremendous opportunity for a shelter dog to have a great life with lots of love.
posted by olinerd at 5:34 AM on April 6, 2011

This is an anecdote (I'm a cat person), but some friends of mine work similar hours to you, and they adopted a greyhound through a rescue group. Their dog couldn't be sweeter, quieter or sleepier. He's fit in really well with their lifestyle. I've often thought that if I was to get a dog I'd go for a greyhound - the rescue group did a lot of training and rehab before my friends brought their guy home.
posted by nerdfish at 5:40 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

You should get a dog.

Go to the shelter, talk to them about your situation, and save a dog that will be otherwise destroyed. There is a shelter dog out there somewhere that you can save.

It might not be the perfect situation for that dog, but you can still do right by the dog. Anything you can offer it is better than being abandoned and destroyed alone in a shelter.

You might want to get an adult dog - because puppies need the most attention and time. An adult dog, that is already potty trained, might better suit your needs.

Either way though, you should go to the shelter and save a dog's life.
posted by Flood at 5:43 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agreed with people here.. you can swing a dog. I just got a new dog from Island Dog, which is a rescue that helps dogs mainly from the islands, chiefly Puerto Rico.

Tell them Rich who adopted Nelson (now Max) sent you.

As long as you're committed to being there outside the 9-5 time, then go for it. There are plenty of dog walker services, and you can find someplace like Dogs on the Farm if you go away on vacation to a place you can't bring them with you.
posted by rich at 6:27 AM on April 6, 2011

What Flood said. I have a cat, not a dog. I work all day and even though Pointycat is alone a lot, he was in a small metal cage at a kill shelter (and had been for 6 weeks) when I brought him home. I figure it is win-win.
posted by pointystick at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2011

In my early 20's, I broke up with a guy that had recently adopted a dog. He wasn't into the dog anymore, so I got "custody" of the dog. She was 3-1/2 at the time, a pit bull/german shepard mix rescue dog from the pound. I was single, living in a small apartment & working 9-5. The last think I thought I needed was a dog to care for, but I really liked the dog & she wasn't being appreciated enough with her current owner (jerk).

The dog was sweet and calm and really enjoyed looking out the window all day. She never barked either. She had a few toys & some treats to chew on. I always made sure her selection of items was varied so she wouldn't get bored. I left classical music on for her while I was gone. She lived to be 17 & 1/2, and was my best friend all the years I had her. I always managed to care for her, and never felt as if I was sacrificing my style of living. She was very happy, all the time. I believe we both made each others lives better. I would not have done it any other way, and I cherish every moment I had with her.

So, it can be done - you just need to find a dog with the right personality. Visit lots of shelters. Many of them have "return policies" where after a few weeks, if it's not working out, they will take them back. Make sure the dog isn't the type that will bark the whole time you are gone - your neighbors will thank you! And if the dog is going to be home all day like that, I wouldn't keep him/her in a crate - that's too long to be kept confined like that. And maybe you can leave some "piddle pads" near the door, just in case you are gone longer than the dog can hold it.
posted by DizzyLeaf at 6:44 AM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Dog + cat sounds like a decent idea. Or an older dog. Anecdotal evidence: I have a rescue dog who is now 9. She spent the first 3 years if her life alone 10 hours a day. Those are some critical years. She will never be socialized the way she would have been had she not spent all that time alone.
posted by tingting at 6:55 AM on April 6, 2011

I adopted an adult rescue dog when I was in much the same situation (I was my mother's caregiver and was usually at the hospital). She was an awesome happy loving dog who was fine with being at home for long stretches by herself; if I was gone for less than four or five hours, she was crated, and if I was gone longer than that, she had free run of the house but usually ended up sleeping in her crate anyway.

As everyone else has said, it is the dog that determines whether this will work, and it's not entirely breed-related - although it is age-related and I'd suggest a dog of 4 or older. Bigger dogs will generally be more mellow indoors, but the biggest dog I ever had (a 90-lb greyhound) was only happy alone if he was locked into his crate. Be careful with greys, as former racers are sometimes poorly socialized; most of them are stupendously awesome dogs but there are some special needs guys like mine.

I think you should do it. Having a loving, non-judgmental companion to come home to changed my life in a time when it felt kind of empty, and saving an older dog's life made me really grateful that her sweet crazy energy could stay in the world for a few more years (I adopted her on the day they were scheduled to put her down).
posted by catlet at 7:13 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am single, live alone, and am out of the house from about 8-5 every day. I don't have a dog walker, though I do have a neighbor on call in case of "oh crap I can't make it home" emergency. My three-year-old greyhound, who came to live with me when he was two, spends the entire day asleep, barring the occasional stretch->rearrange->back to sleep. I have verified this with a webcam, even.

Sure, in an ideal world we'd all be home with our pack all day every day, but real life happens. Dogs are adaptable creatures. You'd want to be sure you picked a breed and an individual, adult dog who was likely to be able to cope with alone time, but they exist. Oh, they SO exist. If I come home early, my dog's all "Oh, you're here again? Meh. Wake me up for dinner."

(On preview: Catlet has a point that if you go greyhound, you let the adoption group know that you'll be needing a dog who can cope with being alone. Some can, others can't. Actually, this is probably true for any shelter or rescue dog.)
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 7:27 AM on April 6, 2011

Just adding another voice to the choir: I have a ~3 year old high-energy shelter terrier, and I'm away from home ~8:00-6:00 every weekday. My pup goes to doggy daycare every day, which wasn't much more money than a daily walker, and is happy and pooped when I get home. We have an excellent bond and he has enriched my life tremendously.
posted by juniperesque at 7:43 AM on April 6, 2011

I think you should get a dog. Previous advice has been excellent. I would just add that when you're looking, make sure to say that you want a dog who does not have separation anxiety. You may want to look for dogs who have been fostered in a home, because the foster parents can usually provide a pretty good idea of how the dog behaves when home alone.

Also, keep in mind that you'll probably want your dog walker to come more frequently at first--transition can be hard on even the best of dogs, and accidents can happen.
posted by catwoman429 at 7:47 AM on April 6, 2011

Absolutely get a dog; most people with dogs work during the day, so you're in good company with this problem.

I live alone, and every weekday have to leave my dog behind for several hours. He sleeps or waits patiently (I've used time-lapse photography to see what he does all day). I exercise him in the mornings and when I get home. I do also have two cats; this probably helps. The dog walker is nice but inessential if your commute is short.

Recommend getting one when you have a week off of work, to work on house training and acclimating him. And definitely keep him in a crate when you're gone for the first couple of weeks, at least.
posted by deadweightloss at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you very much for all your responses!

Nice to see an overwhelmingly positive consensus too!
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:07 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our dog walker actually leads "doggie playgroups" and takes my dog out with a regular set of her "friends." There are even notes and pictures about the antics of her and her friends. I put a camera on her once. When she's not at playgroup, she sleeps. In my bed. Getting fur all over my pillow.

The dog walker also offers boarding in her home when we want to go on vacation or a business trip.

The breed matters--my dog's a lazy dog breed. Which means if I try to jog with her, she gives me a "what the heck?" look and wanders behind. It also matters that I got her as a rescue--none of that puppy training crap.

Getting a dog changed my life for the better. If you love dogs, I heartily endorse it.
posted by Gucky at 8:25 AM on April 6, 2011

I have the same basic concern of wanting a dog/being worried about leaving it alone for a decent portion of the day while busy. A puppy clearly wouldn't be a good choice in this case, while the suggestions of a mellow older dog are good.

I've yet to get a dog, but I've found house sitting for people with dogs has helped quite a bit.
posted by graxe at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2011

I have 3 greyhounds that sleep all day while I'm at work (7:30am til 6:15 or 7:15pm). I know this because I have a hound-cam, and I see them get up to stretch and reposition, and that's it. I have a dog walker who comes in the middle of the day, 3-5 days a week. (It'd be 5 days, but budget constraints have caused me to cut back a bit.) My house is small and they spend all their time in one room while I'm gone. It sounds dull, but they don't seem to mind! :) The days the dog walker doesn't come, they're a little more restless in the evenings, so then I try to take them for a walk myself.

That said, all dogs are different. I have a friend who got a dog that positively shredded the apartment (and crate) while he was gone. He ended up returning the dog to the shelter. Some dogs suffer from separation anxiety. But if you can get a dog/breed that is confident and not particularly busy, it's 100% do-able! (Greyhounds are very lazy dogs, contrary to popular belief, but some have separation anxiety issues. Mine don't, and the several greyhounds I've fostered didn't.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:32 AM on April 6, 2011

My husband and I both work full time so we're gone a large part of the day. We adopted a lazy adult beagle from a shelter and we're all very happy!

I agree with everyone else saying that it's absolutely crucial you get a dog with the right personality if this is going to work. Puppies need semi-hourly care and will not work for you. Our beagle Ginger is not a barker (ever) and is extremely lazy. She seriously sleeps something like 20 hours a day, even when we are home. She doesn't require long walks, and in fact gets tired out pretty quickly. Ginger is also very independent so she's not crushed when we leave her home alone. Of course we shower her with love and attention when we are home, to the point that Ginger gets all teenager-eye-rolly at us. All of these things makes her the ideal dog for our lifestyle and us the ideal owners for her.

I think your enthusiasm about being a good dog owner + a dog walker + the right dog could lead to a very happy life for you and one lucky pup :)
posted by geeky at 12:02 PM on April 6, 2011

If you have the time to dedicate before and after work to walking and playing with your dog, and are willing to hire a dog-walker for a mid-day potty break, I think that you should be absolutely fine for adopting a more laid-back breed (or mix) dog.

I think that for your situation, you'd want to look for a dog that is large enough that it doesn't have to be taken outside every couple hours, but chill enough that it can be contented to be left alone during the day. You also might consider adopting a senior dog that is less active and would be harder for a shelter to place in a good home.

My husband and I both work dayjob hours, but when we found ourselves with a 4-year-old lab who really needed a home and some medical care, we came up with a schedule that works and seems to make everyone happy. You could probably be just as successful with a dog-walker (it works for us because we have somewhat staggered work schedules).

Basically, before work, I take her for a long walk to give her some exercise and a chance to sniff what's been going on in the neighborhood. Before I leave for work, I leave her with a stuffed Kong toy and I turn the radio on to either talk or classical radio. My husband comes home about 5 hours after I leave, so he takes her out to either play frisbee or for another walk when he gets home. During the evening, we are always taking quick breaks to play fetch or hide & seek or tug-of-war with her, or practicing goofy tricks with her, which she loves. On weekends, we take her for longer walks and hikes, to have doggy-playdates with friends, and when it's nice to the lake for a swim and the opportunity to ogle ducks.

She seems extremely happy, compared to the skittish and sickly dog we rescued. She's healthy, she gets tons of comments on how great she looks and how happy and friendly she is. She gets along with our cats, who could take her or lose her, but I like to think they provide some enjoyment for her.

Also, I keep a bird feeder where she can see it, so that she can watch birds and evil squirrels come and snack during the day. She gets really excited about that sort of thing.

Maybe it's not ideal compared to someone who is home all the time, but it's certainly a better life than she had before, and it feels like we are a pretty happy family. So, there's no reason why your situation means that you can't have a dog. If your space is small, you'll just have to go for more walks & find parks where you can play ball or whatever it is that your dog enjoys. There's a right dog for almost every lifestyle.

Good luck!
posted by countess duckula at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Excellent advice everywhere. I can add one thing -- if you can foster to adopt, that might be a great way to find your perfect pupster. Some rescue groups have you fill out a form listing what you have to offer and what you'd like from the dog, and then will try to match you up with one that fits your criteria. You can foster the dog until it finds a forever home, or if you hit it off, make the decision to adopt. This has been great for a person like me because I'm trying to find my perfect companion, but this way I can work with the dog on any issues and give it a place to live until it finds its new home, and can also really tell the new family about the dog and what it's like.

While it's true that dogs are pack animals, saving any pet's life is a lot more important than whether you can provide it with an idealized environment. You sound like a perfect person for a dog, and they will be a lucky animal to have you.
posted by emcat8 at 4:43 PM on April 6, 2011

Seconding all the advice given here - older dog with a known-mellow personality + dog walker. If you can arrange with the dog walker for your dog to be taken out with lots of other (well-behaved) dogs, so much the better - the time spent on a walk will be far more stimulating for your putative dog.

I'm also going to mention, as I always seem to end up doing in these threads, that retired greyhounds make great pets, and an older one would probably be perfect for the kind of laid-back lifestyle you describe :-)
posted by primer_dimer at 1:23 AM on April 7, 2011

My parents had a dog that they had shared custody of after they divorced. My mother had a small house and was out 9-5, but home most evenings and weekends. My father worked from home, but traveled a lot. So he had the dog during the day when he was in town, and she had him when Dad was out of town or otherwise on weekends. It seemed to work really well. I think such an arrangement could work out between good friends too, even if they have never lived together and don't intend to. You would just need to make sure you both wanted the dog equally, and were both strongly committed to the same behavioural strategies (probably an adult dog would be better for this than a puppy), and that you had relatively complementary working hours or lifestyles.
posted by lollusc at 2:58 AM on April 7, 2011

Just to offer an anecdote, my partner and I adopted a 1 yr old shepherd mix who is very energetic at times, and even she has been ok at home for long workdays. I think she'd like us home all the time, but she's ridiculously happy overall. Just to say that you can even get a compatible younger dog. Although older dogs have a harder time getting adopted, so I'd still check them out.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:52 PM on April 7, 2011

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